Assistance league celebrates 15 years

October 21, 2010 The Doings

   Assistance League celebrates 15 years of making a difference
   This year, the Hinsdale-based Assistance League of Chicagoland West chapter celebrates both its 15th anniversary and the thousands of DuPage County citizens, many of them children, it has aided in one way or another.
   Consider this sobering fact: in 2010, this service group of volunteers has provided 2,000 school kids with new winter coats, hats and gloves, and some of those children live in Clarendon Hills and Burr Ridge. The number is startling because of the need in our own area it represents as well as the good the assistance league has done. 
   Providing outwear is only one of the league's projects, projects the group itself funds, although it does get some grant money. Most of the league's $100,000 budget is raised at the annual Books and Brunch fund-raiser, according to Carla Feinkind of Hinsdale, who has been a member of the league throughout those 15 years, though she joined six weeks after its founding, so she does not consider herself to be a charter member. Feinkind is also the league's president, and she said that except for rent and insurance the budget is entirely pumped back into the community.

   Fifteen years ago, one of the league's projects was to distribute 250 sweat suits to kids living at or below poverty level, and just as that program has grown to the 2,000 kids helped today, so has the annual Books and Brunch, which started out small. Now, according to Feinkind, Books and Brunch is "exponentially bigger."
   In fact, Books and Brunch will again be held at the Abbington on Route 53 and Butterfield in Glen Ellyn because it needs such a large space. The daytime benefit can spread out there, offering more than a dozen boutique vendors carrying an interesting array of goods from handbags and jewelry to holiday decor. Silent auction and raffle items are easily displayed and the event's featured authors have space to sign their books and meet Books and Brunch patrons.
   This year's writers include Chicago celebrity chef and cookbook author Rick Tramonto, who has recently published Steak With Friends; At Home with Rick Tramonto. As is the custom at Books and Brunch, Tramonto will spend a few minutes talking and will be available to sign copies of his book as well. 
   Hinsdale resident, novelist and short story writer Cristina Henriquez is another featured author. The World in Half was her critically acclaimed first novel and she has also published the short story collection Come Together, Fall Apart. Apparently another novel is in the works. Lovers of contemporary literature will look forward to hearing her and having copies of her works autographed.
   Bryan Gruley, a Wall Street Journal Chicago bureau chief, Pulitzer Prize winner and mystery novelist, is also featured. His Starvation Lakewas nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award for mystery writing, and The Hanging Tree, a sequel, has just been published.
Hmmm. Getting holiday gift ideas anyone? This sounds like a great way to take care of some shopping and support a great cause.
   Since June, the league has outfitted 23 formerly homeless families with essential kitchen equipment -- meaning that these families can now eat in their own homes with their families, control their diets and ultimately pay less for food since food prepared at home is cheaper than that eaten out. In another program, more than 800 students who participate in Head Start programs will benefit from backpacks, which encourage reading at home. Reading at home may not sound like a noteworthy activity to anyone in the act of reading this column, but "The act of reading is a middle class activity," said Feinkind. When a caregiver and a child sit down together to read, both are profoundly affected.
   "I stay involved because I see there is a tremendous amount of need locally," Feinkind said. "Our projects are very significant and impact people's lives."
   But, it's not just the outward reach that keeps Feinkind and the scores of other women volunteers active.
   "These are the most interesting and compelling women in the area. This is a group of women who care about people in other communities," Feinkind said of her fellow members.
   Laurie Cleary and JoAnn Slezak are this year's brunch co-chairmen. Tickets to Books and Brunch are $75 each, and doors open at 10 a.m. with brunch starting at 11:45 a.m. followed by the author talks at 12:45 p.m. For more information or to order tickets to Books and Brunch, phone (630) 321-2529 or visit